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by Hannah Storm

The first time Maman got sick, Marie climbed to the top of the tallest place she knew. From there she could scan the ocean, as blue as the sky just before the clouds turned grey and the rains came. From the top of her lookout, Marie imagined she was a king.

Don’t look down, Marie, Maman had told her in the days when she was still well, when the two of them sat selling bannan in the market of Cite Soleil. Never look down. Only up. Dye mon, gen mon. Behind the mountains, more mountains.

Later Marie sang her mother the same words she had taught her. Dye mon, gen mon. But Maman could not lift her head. Her eyes, once the colour of precious cacao beans, looked like the milky pools skirting the trash piles Marie used to climb. Now the girl turned to taller peaks, hunting for wood jettisoned by those who stripped the hillsides, always making sure she was home before dark to light a fire by Maman’s side.

After the fires went out, when their light and warmth was a memory like Maman, the men came, and Marie closed her eyes. Nobody heard Marie when she cried. Nobody came when her cries turned to screams, when she shouted Maman, Maman, when she dug her fingers into her skin, imagining the peaks that towered above the other peaks, when she smelt the sourness of the men’s breath, that sweet sickly scent that rose from other people’s putrefying lives, the piled up debris that was once her castle. Nobody helped her find water to wash her wounds. In the open drains that severed Cite Soleil, the bodies of girls like Marie rotted in the ruins of their country.

When the earth started to shake Marie knew she needed to climb higher. These paths were part of her, like the veins that ribboned her belly. She knew each crevasse and contour from the cobalt Caribbean to the same hued sky. She had hiked the naked land, carrying firewood to keep Maman warm. The baskets of branches had felt heavy then, but nothing like the weight she carried now.

Towards the top of one rise, she stumbled. A solitary tree lifted from the soil, its roots like bony fingers clinging to a cliff, the digits of someone holding on by a thread where nothing else remained. Marie knew she needed to stop. She knew that beyond this rise, there would be another and another. She counted them coming and going, in waves like the ocean. Dye mon, gen mon. Dye mon, gen mon. Dye mon, gen mon.

There, as the grey dust settled, in the ruin and roots of her past, Marie gave birth to a girl: a child of strangers, daughter of a devastated person and place, grandchild of a ghost whose words would become hers. Marie looked down at her baby, her milky eyes unfocused on the mountains beyond, and sang the words of her mother’s lullaby.

Hannah Storm is an award-winning writer of flash fiction, whose work pays tribute to the people she has met and the places she has visited during two decades of travelling the world as a journalist. Her flash, creative non-fiction and poetry have been published online widely and her work appears in several print anthologies, including I’ll Show You Mine — A Sex Writing Journal and the forthcoming Bath Flash Fiction Anthology. Hannah won the I Must Be Off travel writing competition in 2020 and has been shortlisted in the Bath Flash Fiction Award, Flash 500, Retreat West and Storgy flash fiction competitions in recent months. She is currently working on her first novel.